Visit to Glenfaba Mill – 24 June 2009

How do we manage to keep discovering new and wondrous things to visit and enjoy? Is this part of the magic that is Peel, glowing in its gorgeous setting? Is it the fascinating history reaching back into the most ancient of times, wreathed in mists of legend and lore? What we do know, is that our lives are too short, to encompass it all. One certain strength is our people and the wonderful welcome they always extend. This was demonstrated, once again, when Paul and Fiona Russell invited us to tour their wonderful Glenfaba Mill.

For only the second time in the Trust’s history, we had to limit this visit to members only, the first being a visit to the Merchant’s House, in Castle Street, to view the restoration works, now continuing with one of our daughters. We felt that we could be overwhelmed and we nearly were! There must have been nearly seventy members present.

The evening was hot and sunny, the setting, by the River Neb, exquisite and the famous Peel welcome at its best.

Paul and Fiona Russell have really thrown themselves into caring for this lovely building and the machinery it still contains. Fortuitously, they had recently enjoyed a visit from a group of mill conservationists so this gave them a bit of a start. The level of interest was high, as many of us had longed for years to get inside this fascinating set of buildings, dating from 1850. A goodly number of us had visited Canon John Sheen’s working mill at Kentraugh, generously open from time to time, so our appetites were whetted. The glorious prospect of seeing the wheel repaired and turning once more was in all our minds, as was the prospect of what could be achieved from the power of the river, including ‘free’ electricity!

As we climbed, floor by floor, we appreciated the many functions that were necessary, as well as milling the grain. This included drying in a kiln. Damp grain would just make a paste and clog the stones. Remember, we are looking at a pre-grain dryer era. If this was not watched, carefully, with the hot grain being regularly turned, it could and sometimes did, ignite, sending flames out of the windows!

Oats were milled, as well as wheat and quantities of pearl barley, an essential in Manx broth. Each product required its own equipment and specialised techniques. A constant need was the requirement to dress the stones to make sure that they milled efficiently with the all-important radiating grooves retained. The control of the water supply is essential.

There are some excellent websites on mills and milling and good publications on Manx mills.

Refreshments and photographs were on sale, to help in the continuing restoration work, which we happily commend and support. Congratulations and thanks, Paul and Fiona.

John Slater